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Diane Thomas Screenwriting Awards

I am a proud UCLA graduate. And through the wonderful world of UCLA Extension, you can also experience the Blue and the Gold (but you get to skip dorm life). UCLA Extension has a catalog full of classes available to the aspiring screenwriter, and even better, they have their very own screenwriting contest. The caveat to entering the contest is that you have to take three Extension screenwriting classes to be eligible. It's the beginning of the year, so if you live in Los Angeles, this is the time to get started for next year. And if you live outside of Los Angeles, UCLA Extension also offers on-line classes. Kathy Pomerantz from UCLA gave me the lowdown about the contest.

Q: How did the contest start?
A: The award was established in 1987. It is given in the memory of Diane Thomas, a former UCLA Extension screenwriting student, whose writing career had just been launched with the hit film "Romancing the Stone" when she was tragically killed in an automobile accident. After Ms. Thomas' death, Steven Spielberg contacted the Writers' Program to establish the award, which acknowledges superior achievement in screenwriting by UCLA Extension students. Mr. Spielberg has judged the competition every year since its inception.

Q: How many entries do you receive?
A: The number is varied. Keep in mind, this competition is only open to UCLA Extension screenwriting students. Last year, we received 136 entries; the year before that, we had 109.

Q: What happens to the script once it arrives in the mail? What's the selection process?
A: Scripts are logged in to our database upon receipt. There are two rounds of judging which occur to select the 10 finalists. Writers' Program instructors and staff are the judges of the first two rounds. Once the ten finalists are selected, the scripts are sent to DreamWorks. They handle the final round of judging. DreamWorks also pairs each finalist with a mentor-an "A" list writer who helps the students do a rewrite on their script before they judged for the final round. Mentors have included: Akiva Goldsman, John Lee Hancock, Scott Frank, Kevin Williamson, David Self, and Paul Guay & Stephen Mazur, just to name a few. The final round judges have included: Steven Spielberg, Michael Douglas and Kathleen Kennedy.

Q: Is one genre more popular than another?
A: Comedy scripts have done well the past few years, but the judges are not looking for one particular genre over another.

Q: What are some big don'ts?
A: DON'T wait till the last minute to submit. DON'T put the script in fancy covers or file folders...they should look professional and be formatted according to industry standards. DON'T send multiple submissions if all the scripts aren't up to par - think quality over quantity.

Q: Who are your success stories?
A: We have a number of success stories. The first recipient of the award was Randi Mayem Singer, who went on to write "Mrs. Doubtfire." Other famous first-place winners of the award include: Carol Heikkinen (Center Stage, The Thing Called Love, Empire Records), Peter and David Griffiths (Collateral Damage), and Carol Barbee (writer on the NBC show, Providence).

Q: What are your plans for the contest?
A: We are celebrating our 15th anniversary this year. The award will be given out on June 19. We are in the midst of planning the party right now. Each year, DreamWorks sponsors an awards ceremony where the finalists are all announced (our version of the Academy Awards).

The deadline for the contest is January 23rd, and unless you took three Extension classes last year, this is more of an announcement to those of you who may be kicking around the idea of taking an Extension class. You can check out their website at www.unex.ucla.edu/writers for complete rules about the contest and info on Extension classes. Go Bruins!

Monica Zepeda


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